“In dreams we enter a world that’s entirely our own.”– (Albus Dumbledore) J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
She stood tall on the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, looking down at the twinkling lights of the bustling city that she loved so much. It was close to midnight and still the city of London wasn’t showing any signs of quietening. Buses and cars were honking at each other stuck in traffic jams, the stench emanating from the exhaust of these vehicles making the air thick and suffocating. She always thought they resembled little Lego pieces which are carefully placed one after another while an occasional motor-bike or bicycle whizzing through looked like little ants. People of all walks of life, no matter their race, religion or political inclinations lived in this great city in harmony. They blended together on the sidewalks and parks, tube stations and tube cars like an exotic colorful soup. It was her favorite kind of chaos, one she had sworn to protect.
Tonight she had decided to wear her favorite red leotard, with a golden belt, the red cape billowing behind her. She stood there with her hands on her hips, as a beacon of everything that was true and honorable and just. The silvery moonlight bouncing off of her shiny dark skin, and thick black hair open and free, getting tousled around by the wind…
“Uggghhhh!!!”, Ri exclaimed loudly, forgetting where she was momentarily. 2 pairs of dark brown eyes viewed her with amusement from across the mahogany dining table, where she was sitting, supposedly engrossed in her homework, when in reality she was writing another story about Princess Magma, the superhero character she’d created. She looked at her mother and her older sister guiltily and tried to smile.
“Oops.”, she said cringing at her completely unprovoked outburst, “Sorry.. I was doing a trig sum and couldn’t get it right.”
“Really?”, her mum said, trying and failing at suppressing her smile, “If you need any help, you can always ask your sister.”
“NO!”, she screamed and then quickly pulled herself together and said in a quieter voice, “I mean no.. I can do it! She wouldn’t know how to anyway.”
Her sister looked at her sharply, she was after all pursuing a degree in Engineering and was a borderline genius, to say that “she wouldn’t know” was blasphemy. Her mother’s eyebrows rose up to her hairline, “What is up with you, Ri? Are you feeling okay?”
“Yes, I am okay mum! Stop hounding me!”, she says, exasperated by all the attention.
“Ri! Behave yourself!”, she is duly reprimanded by her sister.
“Fine. I am going to my room to do my homework in peace. You guys are making me nervous, that’s why I am getting my sums wrong.”, she says with her eyes downcast, so they wouldn’t know that she was lying through her teeth.
She collects her stuff, pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose, flicks back her hair and stomps back to her room with her nose in the air, all while feeling the eyes of her family on her back.
“Phew! That was close.”, she lets out a sigh of relief as she enters her room and closes the door.
She puts her books down at her desk, takes out her green and yellow secret diary/notebook, and stares down at the words she had written. How can Magma’s hair be “open and free”? She is a freaking superhero! She has important things to do which her thick black hair would get in the way of if left open. And what about the multiple knots she would have to brush through and smooth out before going to bed after a night of crime fighting? No Ri wouldn’t let that happen! So, she erases the last line and starts writing again.
She stood there with her hands on her hips, as a beacon of everything that was true and honorable and just. The silvery moonlight bouncing off of her shiny dark skin, and her thick black hair which lay down her back in a carefully self-administered plait.
There. That was better. Ri smiles and continues writing.
As minutes turn into hours, Princess Magma crouches down while keeping a close eye on her favorite city. Even though the noise levels are pretty high, she knows what she is looking for. She has fine tuned her superhuman noise detection power to look for any out of ordinary sounds. Like a scuffle, the unmistakable sounds of fists colliding with flesh, bones crunching or a muffled scream. Or the shattering of windows and the suspicious hurrying footsteps that follow. If she cannot hear any of these, she tries to listen in on the radio chatter of the Metropolitan police and see if they need any assistance. She is a vigilante and she does have super powers, but she would never interfere with police work. But tonight feels like a rare night of reprieve.
Then just as she prepares to jump down from the dome, her ears pick up the distinct sound of panicked running, two pairs of sneakers beating down on the pavement and then grass, and as she focuses on these sounds she hears huffing and puffing and occasional swearing. It seems to be coming from the direction of Hyde Park. She breaks into a run on the dome and in a split second, takes flight towards the dubious sounds.
As she’s flying above Hyde Park the voices draw nearer and there, under the canopy of the trees she can see two men running, sometimes stumbling, the one running in the front already feeling out of breath and on the verge of giving up. She drops down in front of him, right in time to catch him as he fell. She trains her eyes on the other one who was chasing this guy. Wearing a black hoodie, his face wasn’t visible in the dark. As he nears her, he takes off his hood. Breathing heavily he approaches her with a sinister smile on his face. He was taller than her, lanky, with blonde hair and a baby face that she was sure was what helped him escape whatever crimes he committed.
“Well well well! If it isn’t everyone’s favorite vigilante, Princess Magma.”, he says. “Fancy seeing you here! Now hand over the boy to me like a good little girl and we can all go back to our homes and get a good night’s sleep.”
Wow! Just wow! The nerve on this guy. Even though he obviously knew who and what she was, the way he spoke to her and thought of getting away with it? That category of smugness is pretty rare, mostly found in psychopaths and sociopaths. She watches him like one watches a bug under a microscope. To quote Mr. Ollivander, the wand maker in Harry Potter, “Curious, very Curious…”
“What makes you think it is that easy? I genuinely want to know.”, she asks without an ounce of mirth.
Unsurprisingly though he reads the situation wrong. “Are you mocking me?”, he spits out with completely unnecessary anger. Then he proceeds to draw out a gun from the back of his jeans and holds it up aiming it right between her eyes. “Give him to me or I’ll shoot your head off you Paki!”
Now Magma was shocked! It was as if he had slapped her. First of all, it was a bloody awful thing to say. Second of all, while fighting crimes was no walk in the park, and she did come across some really bad people, yet no one had ever called her that before. What made him think that he could throw a racial slur at her and go scot free? Her momentary stunned incapacitation propelled “baby face” to take several threatening steps towards her. His powder blue eyes dripping with such menacing meanness, as if he was taking pleasure from her discomfort. As if he was ecstatic to see that he has the upper-hand, that he has successfully brought the city’s favorite superhero to her knees. Coming too close for comfort, overwhelming her with the foul odor of cigarettes mingled with cheap beer, he spits on her face.
And… That’s it! She feels the kind of rage, that she has never felt before.
She picks him up, like a ragdoll, by the collars of his tattered hoodie and shoots off the ground like a rocket. Her eyes blazing with the fire of barely contained fury. The humid air of the city giving away to the biting sharpness of cold wind as they rise above rapidly. His eyes now devoid of the earlier bravado and arrogance, looked panicked instead. His gun was lost somewhere back on earth.
“Where are you taking me?”, he screams, his voice trembling with so much fear, his eyes wide open filled with terror, tears streaming down his face. But she couldn’t speak. She knew if she so much as opened her mouth, she will breathe fire on to him and leave him charred. Even though she was enraged, she still had some sense left. It was getting too difficult for him to breathe now and he was turning a little blue. He was also sobbing freely, begging to be taken back. Saying that he was sorry. But she couldn’t let him go. Not yet!
At around 13,000 feet above ground, where there is just enough oxygen to breathe, she drops him. And waits, calming herself down. Listening to his screams. “Why is this so much fun?”, she says out loud.
At some point he stops screaming, confirming that he has fainted. She sighs and flies back down, the wind whistling in her ears as she makes her descent. She catches him just as he was about to make contact with the ground. He wakes up from his stupor and starts screaming once again, pushing at her and trying to escape her hold.
“If you push me once more, I will gladly drop you.”, she tells him calmly. And he holds on to her like a frightened little monkey.
She comes back to Hyde Park, the other guy long gone. Puts him back on the land, where he promptly bends down and empties the contents of his stomach. When he’s done, he looks up at her and asks, “Why? Why did you come back at the last moment and catch me?”
She crouches down to his level and tells him, “Trust me when I say it was a difficult decision. But you see, there is a difference between you and me. And come what may, I refuse to be like one of you people.”
He looks a little bewildered and a lot windblown, literally and figuratively, “One of us?”
“Yes”, she says, “Bullies.”
Ri’s mum closes the diary that she had found earlier that day while cleaning her room. Really, the kid should’ve done a better job of hiding it. Under the pillow? It was completely unimaginative. And although she’d had a long internal battle of wits with herself while deciding whether to open it or not, she was glad that she did. The diary was full of such stories. About Princess Magma and her adventures.
At the first glance she dismissed them as just the musings of a 12 year old girl who was immensely creative and felt extremely proud at the detailed way each story was written. But then she noticed some patterns. For example, all the stories had a theme, bullying. Then Princess Magma looked somewhat like Ri, of course Ri did not have long black hair and despised the color red, but then again she had always wanted long hair just like her mum and sister. Each of the villains in the story were described with a surprising accuracy, as if she knew them personally. Then the fact that every story was dated. Meticulously.
“Kritika Ramanujam”, she gently brushes over the name with her fingers, that was written in Ri’s neat handwriting on the first page of the diary. Was Ri being bullied at school? It was an unsettling thought. Something which Ri’s mother decides to bring up with her teachers.
So the next day after dropping off Ri at the school, her mother hangs back. She has an appointment with her head teacher to discuss this disturbing matter. She meets up with the head teacher and she is assured that nothing untoward is happening in the school, that they have a strict no-bullying policy in place and that the students are taught about inclusivity and are all very mindful of other cultures and traditions.
It all sounded a little rehearsed but she had not choice but to take the head teacher’s word for it. As it was close to the time of their lunch break, Ri’s mum decides to visit her in the cafeteria. It was curry day, she could recognize the scent of cumin and coriander.
It was a bit chaotic in there and at first she couldn’t find Ri. She cranes her neck to get a better look and that’s when she finds her, sitting alone, with a tray of food on the table in front of her and a textbook opened next to it, as if she was reading while eating. She shakes her head gently at her daughter’s peculiarity and starts walking towards her. As she makes her way towards Ri, she sees a boy, tall and lanky, with blonde hair, walking in Ri’s direction and as he reaches her, he tips the bowl full of curry that he was carrying on to her head.
“Ri”, she screams from where she was standing. Suddenly it becomes deafeningly silent in the cafeteria. Everyone stops and looks at her. The gleaming smile that the demented boy was wearing starts slipping off his face, and Ri, her precious daughter turns back slowly, with eyes wide and full of shock, hurt and fear. In that moment, Ri watches as her mother transforms. It was as if the whole cafeteria was gradually darkening, as if her mother was summoning all the raging thunderclouds from around London and was ready to strike her tormentor with a bolt of lightning. She was the true embodiment of Princess Magma herself in that moment.
Ri gets up slowly, “Mum”, she says letting out a choked sob and runs towards her mother, into her outstretched arms.
Her mum looked fearsome as she embraced her. Her mother’s livid dark brown eyes stared into the boy’s nervous powder blues until he looked away. She turns back just as the various staff members, including the head teacher, entered the cafeteria. She starts walking towards them with determination, still holding Ri close to her, her pristine pearl white dress getting dirty with the curry still dripping from Ri’s hair.
She speaks with the head teacher in a terrifyingly calm voice, “If this boy is not held accountable and punished rightfully, I will see to it that this school shuts down and you have nowhere to go.” She waits until the true meaning of her words registers with the teacher, whose eyes become comically large and she understands finally that Ri’s mum was threatening her and the school.
Then she walks away, holding Ri’s hand and takes her home, where she runs her a bath, helps her out of her dirty clothes and washes her hair. And much later, when she is sure that Ri will be okay by herself in the bath, she leaves the bathroom, closing the door quietly.
She goes into her room, shuts the door and stands with her back on it, promptly sliding down and collapsing on the floor while breaking down into sobs. There were 15 stories in Ri’s diary, written since the beginning of the school year. She realized now with a startling clarity that those were the accounts of all the times she was bullied in her school, under the watchful eyes of her teachers.
The next few days Ri’s mum fought. With the parents of the boy, her teachers, the school council, the trustees. But she refused to not send Ri to her school and she refused to budge. She said it would be admitting defeat and they were not the ones who were at fault. She looked out for more signs of bullying in Ri. Made sure that Ri always discussed what happened at school; the good, the bad and the ugly.
After a week of that incident, things changed. Not only was the boy held accountable for his actions, as a punishment he was suspended for a month, which his parents didn’t agree to and changed his school instead. The school authorities became more alert and new anti-bullying rules were implemented. An anti-bullying committee was formed, which Ri gladly became a part of and immediately made some friends. Flyers and posters were made and stuck all around the school, workshops were conducted and plays were performed to bring attention to bullying and racial discrimination in their school and everywhere else. Everyone, students and their parents, teachers and their spouses, were being educated about this extremely relevant issue.
Things were changing… for good. And Ri couldn’t be more proud. Looks like there won’t be another “Ri” in this school in the future and it was all because of her Princess Magma.
She stood at her favorite perch on the dome of Saint Paul’s cathedral, her cape and plait whipping in the air, as the city went by under her watchful eyes. A living breathing organism, with its various sounds and smells and sights. A city she loves and the people whom she protects. Good and evil, benevolence and intolerance, love and hate, coexisted here. This was her home. And she was the guardian, so all was well.